SAN DIEGO POLICE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
At the time, the McDonalds Massacre was the largest case of mass murder in US history.
James Huberty pulled into the McDonalds parking lot at 4:10 p.m. and immediately started shooting. Several of his shots hit three children who had ridden their bicycles to the restaurant. As he walked inside, Huberty fired his guns into the air and shouted “everyone get down.” Sixteen year old Alberto Leos worked at the restaurant and recalled, “When he first yelled it, we all thought he was there to rob us. The manager walked over to Huberty and started getting into an altercation with him. He killed her. As soon as the shooting started I ducked down behind the counter. I was there for 40 minutes trying to comfort my coworkers as he went through the restaurant executing people. He shot my coworkers and even shot me four times before he ran out of ammo. When he went to reload I managed to crawl down to the basement and get into a closet with some other employees.”
During the time Huberty was shooting, a store manager called 9-1-1. Immediately after receiving the emergency call, communications broadcast an assault with a deadly weapon call at the McDonalds. Officers Miguel Rosario and Irving Escobedo were in separate cars at the border when they heard it and began heading that way. Rosario was the first to arrive and was immediately shot at. From his vantage point outside, he couldn’t see or imagine the carnage inside the building. Rosario quickly called for additional officers. Escobedo and others arrived within minutes. Escobedo later remembered, “My wife was working strange hours at the time and she used to take the kids to McDonalds about that time of day. As soon as I pulled into the lot I was looking all over for her car hoping she wasn’t there.” As officers outside tried to get a handle on the situation Huberty continued to shoot at them. SWAT was notified and began to head towards the scene through rush hour traffic. To further complicate matters, officers were having problems with the glare on the building’s reflectorized windows. All that could be seen was a figure walking through the lobby of the restaurant. Eventually it became very apparent that the only person inside of the building still moving around was Huberty. Shortly after arriving, SWAT sniper Charles Foster climbed on top of the neighboring post office where he had a clear view of the shadowy figure. At 5:15 p.m. he fired one shot with deadly accuracy. Smashing through the plate glass window, the bullet stuck Huberty in the heart and he fell to the ground. The siege was over. Huberty was dead. The entire ordeal took only an hour and fifteen minutes from the time the shooting started until Huberty was dead but the aftermath was incredible. Twenty-one innocent lives had been ended and twenty more were wounded.
Not wanting to take anything for granted, SWAT officers moved into the restaurant cautiously. They still weren’t sure if Huberty was the only gunman. As the officers searched the building for another suspect, they also held out hope they would find survivors. When officers entered the downstairs they found several employees hiding in the back office, scared but alive. Alberto Leos later recalled, “I had lost so much blood I was getting weak. I taken my shoelaces off and used them as tourniquets to keep from bleeding to death. I stuffed a rag in my mouth so as not to cry out in pain as I was hiding.” The follow up to the incident proved to be a logistical nightmare. Even with a dead suspect, there was still an investigation that needed to be done. Many questions still remained. There were also more than 40 casualties that needed to be documented. Detectives worked more than 24 straight hours investigating the crime scene. Most would later describe the scene as an overwhelming amount of death and destruction. Within months, what was left of the restaurant was torn down and today the site is part of a community college. A white monument stands out front as a reminder of that terrible day when so many innocent lives were lost. Because of his wounds Alberto Leos lost a partial football scholarship to San Jose State University. He would spend three months in the hospital enduring five surgeries and another two years of physical therapy. Alberto Leos eventually became an SDPD officer. He said for a while he was angry that he couldn’t save his friends and coworkers that awful day. Despite still bearing scars on his body and feeling physical affects of his injuries, Leos pushed himself to make something good out of something bad. Redemption came in 1995 when he pulled a man from a burning car and was awarded the departments life saving medal. Now a sergeant, Leos said “it was my second chance to save someone.” On July 18, 1984, James Oliver Huberty, a 41-year-old, unemployed security guard, went on a shooting spree in a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro. The day began with the Huberty family visiting the San Diego Zoo. Etna Huberty later told investigators her husband seemed distant and agitated the entire day. When the family got home, James Huberty went into another room only to return dressed in camouflage clothing. As Etna lay down for a nap, her husband told her “Society has had its chance. I am going hunting. Hunting humans.” Etna later told reporters her first response to the bizarre statement was to chalk it up to the fact James had recently talked of suicide, having grown depressed over his inability to hold a steady job.